‘Reply Box No 666’ — “The Champions”

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062551/]

“Craig Sterling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett These are the Champions.

“Endowed with the qualities and skills of superhumans – qualities and skills, both physical and mental, to the peak of human performance. Gifts given to them by an unknown race of people, when their ‘plane crashed near a lost civilisation in Tibet. Now, with their secrets known only to them, they are able to use their fantastic powers to their best advantage as the Champions of law, order and justice. Operators of the international agency, Nemesis!”

“The Champions” was a British television (ITC) production, starring three individuals, Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon), Sharron Macready (Alexandra Bastedo) and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt), all of whom work for a NATO law enforcement organization named Nemesis (this being the Cold War era) and its head, Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls). who was not aware of the peculiar abilities of his three best agents. On their first mission in Communist China, their plane was shot down over Tibet, where they were rescued by members of an advanced, hidden civilization and returned to full health and beyond. Their treatment gave them extraordinary physical and mental abilities: enhanced senses, strength and reflexes, superior intellect, a limited precognitive ability and a psychic link between them, among other things they were then unaware of.

Some of the episodes involved elements of hypnosis and mind control, but episode ‘Reply Box No 666’ stands out because of the hypnosis scene involving Macready as the seductive (appropriately enough, as she did seduce her subject back to her room prior to the induction) hypnotist.

Capsule Description: In ‘Reply Box No 666’, the plot involves a dead Russian agent and a mysterious message that Tremayne believes is a coded signal, and so he sends his best agents to the Caribbean to investigate. Stirling impersonates the agent while Macready and Barrett investigate undercover, but nothing goes quite as planned. Stirling’s cover is blown and he is shot and thrown out of an airplane, surviving several hours in the Caribbean waters only (apparently) because of his enhanced stamina. Macready and Barrett have to complete the mission themselves and rescue Stirling, but at the end, the find Stirling doesn’t need the rescue.

Description: Nemesis tracks down the location of the store that placed the message and Stirling makes contact. There he meets the others. They leave in a plane, searching areas around Jamaica from the air for what Stirling is not told. At the same time, Macready and Barrett are investigating the store and making sure the real replacement doesn’t show up, respectively, only to have the real replacement show up at the store while Macready is present: her psychic abilities enable her to recognize him.

Unable to warn Stirling, the store owner alerts the people on the plane and, after trying to subdue the others and forced to stabilize the plane, Stirling is shot and thrown out of the plane, landing in the ocean.  Its now all up to Macready and Barrett to complete the mission and rescue Stirling. Macready uses her psychic connection with Stirling, one of her individual abilities, to understand Stirling is still alive and in trouble, and triangulates his position.

Later, Barrett notices another of the foreign agents, someone he recognized from when he was watching Stirling at the store. Macready and Barrett then split up, Macready to see what she can learn from the agent while Barrett returns to search the store. While Macready lures the agent up to her room, Barrett begins to search the store, only to have the owner return and force Barrett into hiding. Meanwhile, Macready is hypnotizing the agent.

[youtube iV5_aimzBHU]

Unfortunately, she gets little out of the agent. Fortunately, Barrett had much better luck, getting a look at agents’ map of their search pattern. The next day, they hire an aircraft to search the same areas, seeking out what the other agents are searching for and hunting for Stirling. Stirling, on the other hand, has discovered what everyone in searching for: the wreck of an advanced aircraft that a foreign power wanted destroyed so it wouldn’t fall into NATO hands. Except that both parties arrived at the crash site at the same time, and three Champions were more than what two ordinary agents could handle.

Commentary: Yes, the hypnosis scene is very stereotypical, but stereotypical is the norm for this series.

Given the series premise and history, it appears that each of the three Champions have their own individual specialties: one has to wonder whether Macready’s includes a form of telepathic hypnosis? She displays a psychic sense that allows her to locate Stirling when he was stranded, and she does share the trio’s telepathic communication ability, so maybe there are other skills there waiting to be shown? As this was only the third episode shown, and having not seen all of the episodes, further skills might be indicated.

The series was also remarkable for using three leads, as opposed to the single lead or the two ‘buddy’ lead series. (There is something Freudian about the three lead trope, especially here: Barrett is the Ego, analytical and careful; Stirling is the Superego, active and forceful and Macready is the Id, the instinctive seat of sexuality. Well, sort of.) This was one of the first appearances of this arrangement in a television series and it set such a successful pattern that is still in use today.

History: “The Champions” was created by Dennis Spooner, who was also involved with several other ITC productions. A script writer and story editor, he was a mainstay in many memorable BBC and ITC productions. He also worked extensively with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, writing for “Fireball XL5”, “Stingray”, “Thunderbirds” and “UFO”. However, his most significant writing accomplishment would be when he wrote for “Doctor Who” in the Hartnell era, when he wrote ‘The Time Meddler’: this was the first episode with another Time Lord (other than Susan, although the Time Lords were not identified as such by title until later) and was the first episode to involve a ‘shadow story’ behind the real historical events, where the Doctor was pitted against an alien foe attempting to alter history. That trope would become a constant plot for the rest of the series.

“The Champions”, like many ITC series, was prone to a number of failings, most notably the primary use of stock footage and the Elstree Studios (a generic name for a complex of different studios) backlots for many of the sets. Therefore, there were three episodes set aboard submarines and three were set in the Arctic or Antarctic. The stories and the writing, too, were of varying quality, mostly strictly average and pedestrian in nature. The plots also ranged from espionage to mysteries to the supernatural, a rather conflicting combination. However, others see it differently:

THE CHAMPIONS is bright, cheerful, rarely dull, often exciting and occasionally exceptional (‘The Interrogation’) which is more than you can say for many of its contemporaries. It also set the template for later shows such as THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. — Sci Fi Freak Site

Recommendation: The hypnosis scene is worth watching, and the episode is interesting, but only diehard fans of the genre would be really interested in the series as a whole.

Resources:

Trivia:

  • The fountain shown in the opening credits is in Lac Leman, Geneva. The footage is from the producer’s holiday home movies.
  • The Nemesis building is actually the Directorate of Technical Services and Directorate of Housing and Environmental Services. It is not in Geneva, but in the London Borough of Barnet.
  • Anthony Nicholls wore a false beard and hairpiece playing Tremayne.
  • Alexandra Bastedo was no stranger to espionage: prior to “The Champions” she appeared in “Casino Royale” (1967).
  • Stuart Damon won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award for playing the part of Dr. Alan Quartermaine on the daytime soap “General Hospital” in 1999, holding a total of seven nominations.

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